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"I was so scared and so sad." How JoJo went from fame at 13 to drinking until she blacked out.

If you’re a 30-ish-year-old human, you’ll probably remember the song lyrics: “Get out (leave!), right now. It’s the end of you and me. It’s too late (now!) and I can’t wait for you to be gone.”

‘Leave (Get Out)’ came out in 2004 and was practically screamed at every single teenage sleepover for the next two to four years.

It was sung by 13-year-old Joanna Noëlle Levesque or “JoJo”, and was so successful it propelled the teen into stardom. In fact, JoJo was the youngest female solo artist to have a number-one single in the United States.

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Everything was looking great.

JoJo was living a dream she had been working towards since she was six years old.

She’d attend school during the day and was in the studio at night. She was absolutely loving it.

JoJo knew she wanted to be a singer from the age of six. Image: Uproxx.
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For her first-ever tour, she opened for Usher. And after the success of 'Leave', she went on to enjoy the popularity of her second hit 'Too Little, Too Late'.

But at the age of 15, JoJo suddenly disappeared, and her fans were left completely in the dark.

A now 29-year-old JoJo told Uproxx her quick rise to fame "felt like the beginning of the rest of her life," but she quickly learnt she'd been trapped.

After being discovered by record producer Vincent Herbert on America's Most Talented Kids, a then 12-year-old JoJo was soon signed by Blackground Records.

JoJo recalls the label "feeling like family".

"My label got my mum [Diana] a car. Got us an apartment. I had my own room for the first time. They felt like family to us, and I think that's what both my mum and I were really longing for. Deep down, both of us come from very unstable family situations and they really appealed to that within us," she told the half-hour Uproxx documentary.

The mother-daughter duo had come from humble beginnings, living off Diana's cleaning wage in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

JoJo and her mum Diana. Image: Uproxx.

Once signed, the label moved them to New Jersey, and in hindsight, JoJo can now see that was because the child labour laws were easier to get around. But at the time she was enjoying the "wildest thing ever".

"Suddenly I was on a private plane... I was a little girl from nowhere," she told Uproxx.

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The label would go on to have a chokehold on JoJo's voice and her music for seven years. They refused to release new songs, all while trying to silence her as an artist.

JoJo told Uproxx she wrote hundreds of songs which never came out.

"It felt like I was banging my head against a wall because I was like, is anyone ever going to hear this?" she told the broadcaster.

Blackground Records quickly became a non-functioning label; it was being sued from multiple fronts and had lost the right to distribute.

JoJo became obsessed with getting her voice out from under their commercial stranglehold.

In between her first and second albums, JoJo had started to act in a few movies, but as she explained to Uproxx, her label didn't like that. They went as far as to "send men to my film and television agent's office to intimidate him," she said.

2004 MTV Video Music Awards - Show
JoJo's celebrity grew quickly, and she was thrust onto a world stage aged 13. Image: Kevin Winter/Getty.

Her mum (who was her manager) was getting so frustrated with the label that JoJo decided to let her go because she was worried "it would kill her".

To her fans, it looked like JoJo had disappeared, but she was actually still making music. It just wasn't going anywhere.

"I watched people who had opened for me coming up and starting their careers and surpassing me. It was so incredibly upsetting. I really wanted to put something out," she said.

She started to wonder if the reason the label wasn't releasing her music had something to do with the way she looked.

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"When I was 18, I remember being sat down in the Blackground office and the president of the label being like 'we just want you to look as healthy as possible,' and I was like 'I am actually the picture of health'," she told Uproxx.

She was placed with a nutritionist who put her on a 500 calorie a day diet and gave her injections to suppress her appetite.

JoJo went along with it because she thought maybe if she was skinny enough they'd finally release her third album.

"I thought that what I was wasn't enough, that it was dissatisfying. So I started getting really f***ed up. I started drinking, making out with strangers, looking for validation in attention, looking to feel pretty, looking to feel good, looking to feel worthy," said JoJo.

Jojo Uproxx
JoJo has opened up to Uproxx about what it was like being controlled by a label that wouldn't let her release music.

She remembers needing to feel "buzzed" to be okay. "I would go to the edge and stand on my tiptoes on the edge," she said.

Speaking to People magazine, JoJo said she'd drink to the point of blacking out because she was "feeling overwhelmed and found myself wanting to get out of my mind because I was so scared and so sad".

JoJo's father was an opioid addict and died from his addiction. It was his death that eventually pulled her back from the edge as she realised she did not want to end up dead. Her dad had once told her when she was younger "addiction is like Arnold Schwarzenegger pumping iron in your backyard just waiting for you".

She never forgot his words, and even as a kid remembers thinking, "I don't accept that just because this is in my DNA that this has to be in my future."

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“At the end of the day I am a product of a family with substance-abuse issues," she told People.

At 18 years old, JoJo was diagnosed with clinical depression and has been taking antidepressants and going to therapy ever since. She didn't feel any shame seeking help, because of the mental health issues she'd witnessed in her family.

In 2013, she filed a lawsuit against her label company in desperation, alleging that because she’d been a minor when she’d signed, she couldn’t be bound to the contract for seven years. But Blackground asked for the case to be dismissed and were planning to "bleed her dry" until she gave up.

Her family kept telling her to give up and go to college and try something else outside of the industry. But music was JoJo's only dream - it was all she wanted for her future.

While her lawsuit raged on, she wasn't allowed to make money from music, so she started releasing mixtapes instead.

She didn't get any money from them, but they allowed her to tour (something her label didn't have control over) so she finally got the chance to reconnect with her fans.

They were so loyal they rallied behind her with a #FreeJoJo social media campaign and in 2014, she eventually won her long legal battle and was freed from her contract.


Once free, JoJo signed with Atlantic Records, and busily worked towards her third album Mad Love which she released in 2015, a whole decade after her second album.

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But Blackground still had control of her old music, so she re-recorded the first two albums and other singles that Blackground had in the vault.

"We had to find ripped versions of my old music on YouTube so I could refer back to what these songs were and how they sounded," she told Uproxx.

After being re-released, both of her first two singles went number one on iTunes.

"I went from feeling like a disempowered child to a capable woman," she said.

Nowadays, JoJo is in a joint venture with Warner Records and her very own label Clover.

After winning a 2020 Grammy Award for Best R&B Song with PJ Morton for Say So, JoJo announced her upcoming fourth album Good To Know.


In October last year, JoJo released 'Joanna', a song that looked at her decade dealing with lawsuits, self-doubt, and the struggles she's faced since re-emerging on the music scene.

"You don't really sound the same. Do you still have the same range. That you did when you were 14, girl? I don't really know," she sings.

But regardless of what Twitter says, JoJo couldn't care less.

"I feel grateful for the resilience that I have. I want to create a legacy," she told Uproxx.

This article was originally published in February 2020 and has been updated on April 30, 2020. 

Feature image: Instagram/Getty.